Seaside Heights still pushing for a sea wall instead of a protective storm dune
Seaside Heights continues seeking special consideration to opt out of the Army Corps of Engineers one-size-fits-all planned dune project along the Jersey Coast to instead build a protection storm wall.
Borough Administrator Christopher J. Vaz and David Eareckson, President of the consulting firm Matrix New World Land Development that Seaside Heights hired to design the revetment, discussed the project on "Townsquare Tonight" on News Talk 1160 & 1310 WOMB-AM with host Tom Mongelli.
Officials from both Seaside and Matrix have been in discussions with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps about why they feel a revetment is a more viable option for Seaside.
Vaz pointed out the Seaside's issues are different than other coastal communities, at least on the east side of town.
"We're a business community on that part of town, and so we have, our interests might be a little different than our neighbor to the south or our neighbor to the north," said Vaz.
Vas noted that Seaside has been actively monitoring the litigation involving Jenkinson's in Point Pleasant Beach opposition to the dune project and said the Borough has been receiving copies of the court filings so they know what the basis of the lawsuit is, especially the parts of the litigation that hinge on the language in the dune easement itself.
"Quite frankly, Seaside Heights has the same reservations about the language that's contained in the dune easements. We haven't sued, but we know that Jenkinson's has, and we're watching that case very closely," Vaz said.
Seaside Heights is proposing putting the wall on the east side of the boardwalk, according to Eareckson.
"This wall would only stick up about 3 feet above the boardwalk. So what we've talked with Seaside about is making it look like a railing. The material itself could be covered in whatever other material you wanted, so that you wouldn't even really know that there was a wall there," said Eareckson.
Eareckson noted Seaside is fortunate, because they can take advantage of what already exists and incorporate this wall into that structure.
"We'd have to put some gates in it of sense, an engineered gate that could be removed so that people could access the beach because the 3 foot tall wall has to be a solid structure. So there'd be breaks in it where people could walk down and get on the beach just like they do today, and that's very critical to Seaside because they have that connection to the beach and they want that connection to the beach and the dune, the dune is 120 feet wide. It was just destroy that connection to the beach. If we're able to put this wall and people could still walk down right off the boardwalk and be on the beach and throw their towel down, if the dune is built, they'd have to walk up and over and across 120 feet of dune just to get down to the beach by the water," Eareckson said.
Seaside would not need the dune, but it would need the beach replenishment, according to Eareckson.
"That's critical. It helps protect everybody. It's part of the system that the Army Corps wants to install, and the Army Corps calls that the berm project."
Eareckson pointed out the beach replenishment, or the berm, could still move forward.
"If we can have everybody agree to modify the language in the conservation easements, the berm project, the beach replenishment could move forward unimpeded," he said.
Eareckson added they just want language in the documents tweaked, so that the dune is not restrictive from ever being touched.
"We feel that if the Army Corps wanted to put all the sand up for the dune on the beach, we'd be perfectly happy with that because then the next time the beach washes away, we'd push the dune down and make the beach wide again. So if they want to pump all that sand onto our beaches, we're perfectly fine. We just don't want them to restrict us from ever touching that dune again, cause that would kill the tourism industry," Eareckson said.
Vaz pointed out Seaside Heights has been a tourist attraction since 1913.
"We're arguing that other funding sources are available and should be made available to fund this," said Vaz.
Vaz said the Borough hasn't financed the project yet, because it hasn't been approved at this point by the Army Corps. He said Seaside is hoping to fund the sea wall as a modification of the present appropriation for the existing project or through FEMA mitigation funds. Vas noted it wouldn't be a large sum of money and that they would need alternative sources of funding.
"I don't think the borough would be able to finance this on their own," said Vaz
Eareckson added. "Our hopes is that we would be able to tap similar funds to what they used to build the existing wall in Mantoloking."
Eareckson noted that was done with mostly federal money, about 80-percent, and about 20 percent state funding.
"We'd like to tap those same kind of funds, or at least a lot of it so that Seaside could protect itself," said Eareckson.
Every day that goes by without protection is worrisome, said Vaz.
"The past blizzard is an example. We don't often get super storms like Sandy, but we very often get Nor'Easters like the past blizzard, and for the first time that I can recall, one piece of our temporary dune was literally washed away in this past storm from Hiering Avenue to Carteret Avenue. Now, that's a temporary dune that we built, to provide some protection from water if it were able to have the force to go up under the boardwalk and out onto the street. Although it didn't have the force to go to the street, it did take out that temporary dune," Vaz said. He noted that dune isn't built like a regular dune with dune grass, but rather by just using available sand on the beach that gets pushed up and formed into a temporary dune.
"Part of us want's this project to happen yesterday, but the rational part of us wants the project to get done correctly," said Vas.
Vaz noted the former and present Mayors of Seaside have assured NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin that the Borough would not stand in the way of the dune project, but added that at the same time, Seaside continues making its arguments very strongly behind the scenes.
"We really want consideration to do this the way that we think is in the best interest of Seaside Heights," Vas said.
Eareckson pointed out that Seaside is treating this different than most other people.
"The first part of this project no matter what, is going to be pumping sand onto the beach. Seaside is perfectly willing to let that proceed," said Eareckson. He added, "All we're asking for is consideration to hold back on planting the grasses and building the structures over the dunes and change the language so that we're allowed to change that sand."
The fact that Seaside's boardwalk is more than 400 years old presents a strong argument for the sea wall.
"We ask for some special accommodation to be treated in the unique way that Seaside deserves because they are a very unique case along the shore," said Eariskon.
Eareckson reiterated they want the project to proceed but were seeking to have the Army Corps hold off on planting the dune grasses and building the walk overs and give them some accommodation in the language.
"We're proposing this really as a cost-saving measure, because the dune and the berm require maintenance over the next 50 years. When the storms come, they're going to wash away. Somebody's going to have to come back and rebuild them again. We build the wall once, it stays, you don't have to maintain it like you do the dunes," said Eareckson.
The NJDEP has been very responsive in arranging meeting, according to Vaz, but he said the flip side was not always true with the Army Corps.
"Most of the argument hinges on the language in the dune easement. We have plenty of meetings where they've sat down and listened to us, unfortunately that's all it seems that we get out of the Army Corps is listening." Vaz said.
In the meantime, Vaz said the Borough continues to make temporary plans to build up its dunes and put sand under the boardwalk to protect property and lives.